February 28, 2013

feed a cold

Is it feed a cold and starve a fever?  That's the principle I've been operating under today...the feeding bit, that is.  I think I have a cold that's starting to take hold.  Apparently, it makes me want to rhyme when I haven't got time, too.

I'll stop that.

It has been an interesting week.  Some late nights, some good chats, a power dinner, an old friend visiting from Hawaii.  Not nearly enough sleep.  Lots of plans being made for the next few months.  Ironing out the hiccups of some of the book launch plans (keep your fingers crossed for me, please).   

I haven't read any Truman Capote, though just this morning on my Goodreads feed I saw that somebody I'm friends with there gave five stars to In Cold Blood, which I've been meaning to read.  But I love this photo of him below at his home that I stumbled upon today.  I love the warm colours with the pops of turquoise and the mix of patterns and flowers and curios.  It's my favourite from this series on Buzzfeed of writers at home.  

I admit it: I love brocade wallpaper. 

I had ambitions of finishing my hat tonight in front of the television, but I was too zoned out to pay attention and I kept making mistakes as I began to do decreases towards the crown.  Oh well.  

Right now I'm going to go boil water for Neocitron and get into bed and read Juliet, Naked.  This morning on the metro I was wishing that there were enough Nick Hornby books to read every morning on my way to work.  

February 25, 2013

Salty Ink, Type Books, and Oscar blabbing

Salty Ink, one of my favourite Can Lit websites has featured Bone and Bread in the first installment of its Spring Fiction Spotlight -- 15 Novels to Put on Your Reading Radar.  Hurray! 

Also, you have probably already seen this if you’re on Twitter (or if you live in Toronto!), but I love it too much not to belatedly share it here: a beautiful window display at Type Books by Kalpna Patel, who has one of my all-time favourite handles on Twitter and who snapped the photo below:

Did you watch the Oscars?  I watched the whole thing at a lovely, low-key Oscar party with delicious eats, but today I find I don’t have much to say about it besides a deeper love of Adele, whose performance of Skyfall was amazing and almost nonchalant, and who, in the context of these Hollywood award shows, just seems refreshingly real every time she opens her mouth.   Also, in the days leading up to the Oscars, I stumbled upon this insider’s look at Oscar voting, which was being linked to as some kind of shocking revelation (people vote without watching the movies!) but is not really very surprising at all. 

It was also a big night for Life of Pi, which I’m looking forward to seeing, and I felt some real Can Lit pride to see it do so well.  I was happy that at least two of the people who won (including Ang Lee for best director) acknowledged Yann Martel’s novel.  (I wonder…if a movie based on your book is nominated for an Oscar, do they stick you up in the balcony?)  

One of several delicious courses last night.  Carrot-apple-ginger soup by M, hostess extraordinare:

February 23, 2013

Friday photo shoot and another bad cab ride

My weekend started early as I took the day off of work on Friday for a photo shoot, which made me feel a little bit fancy and a little bit less like the pyjama-clad, stay-at-home-Saturday-night cobbler-together-of-words I really am.  It isn't every day I get to miss work for a photo shoot!  From start to finish, it took four hours, in four different locations, and it was tons of fun.  

And no, it wasn't that photo shoot.

Amazing photographer Guillaume Simoneau  

I alternately smiled and tried not to smile until my lips were actually quivering.  I am not, perhaps, the most relaxed model.  But it was fun watching Guillaume work.  I love watching people do what they do best and getting to take a peek inside the intricacies of different art forms.  (I'd love to visit a movie set some time, even though I hear that the ratio of set-up/waiting around time can be epic.)

G let me turn the (cell phone) camera on him.

When it was over, given that it was a special, unusual kind of day and I was suddenly starving, I decided to spring for a taxi across town to meet my husband for a late lunch/early supper or whatever a 3 p.m. main meal could decently be called.  However, my bad cab luck (I'll skip the capsule litany of taxi woes, but trust me, it is lengthy) persisted when the taxi driver got us into an accident, possibly due to being half-asleep.  (I hate the taxi stand protocol of having to get into the cab at the front of the line, even if -- and this often seems to be the case -- the driver at the front of the line actually has to be woken up to take a fare.)  We cruised through a four-way stop straight into the side of another car, but luckily nobody was hurt.  

Given that the driver got us into a car accident, I felt like I was justified in not giving the driver a tip, although truth be told, I still feel a little bit bad about it.  

Whether it was the hours of posing or the car accident or just the usual Friday weariness, I  immediately fell into a deep sleep on the couch early that evening, after just a few minutes with my current read.  A rather intense start to the weekend!  

February 21, 2013

admiring the easy read

I just came back from the gym, where I went to buy food and read a book.  This is not the most intelligent behaviour for somebody who is doing a photo shoot for this good cause in the very near future.  Oh well. 

I’m happy I took some time to read.  I’m reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and I had one of those fleeting moments when I’m enjoying a book and I think ALL books should be just like the one I’m holding.  It’s funny and sad and smart and it just flies by.  I think, I want to write a book that just flies by. 

But so far, I don’t think this has been my style in anything I’ve published.  And I might be wrong or misremembering things…it’s almost certain, anyhow, that the way I feel when reading through one of my own manuscripts is not the same way anybody else would feel.  I’ll read something and get tripped up on whatever else I know went into a particular sentence (what I was thinking about when I wrote it, or that tricky clause I took out of it, or the word I wanted to use but couldn’t manage), while someone else finds it all wonderfully lucid.  Or at other times (and this is by far the more common pitfall in writing), I know exactly what I’m trying to say and I breeze through it all without a problem, congratulating myself on my clarity while readers are stuck trying to follow my analogies from point A to point B.  

It would be nice to write something as straightforward as talking or thinking, so there is nothing for a reader to bump up against and get shaken out of the spell.  That’s something I’d like to do. 

But I still appreciate other styles of writing!  I enjoy and admire difficult books as well as straightforward ones, and I guess I’m saying I’d like to write lots of books and lots of different kinds of books, if that turns out to be possible.  


If you haven’t yet, and you’re behind on your internet reading, you should check out the wonderful LitBits gathered over at Bella’s Bookshelves

On a less literary note, check out this hilarious Get the Look over at The Hairpin.

I smell burnt toast*

If you’re like me (and you probably are), Heritage Minutes represent not only some of your favourite quotable vignettes, but also your most formative knowledge of Canadian history.  (Sad, maybe, but true.)  Well, pinch yourself, but there’s actually a contest to suggest a Minute!   It has to be about Confederation and it can’t have been covered already.  Details here. Deadline March 1st. 

In other news, I caught up with the season finale of Downton on the weekend, and I’m still annoyed.  I won’t say more in case you’ve somehow managed to shield yourself from spoilers, but if you’re already resigned on that front, here’s an interview in the Telegraph with Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew, who, as it turns out, is a rather literary fellow.

 contemporary Matthew Crawley...er, Dan Stevens

*I swear I must have seen this particular Heritage Minute, with Sir Wilder Penfield, a thousand times, as well as the one about the French Canadian families adopting Irish orphans and letting them keep their names, Valour Road, Superman, and Vince Coleman, but there are tons of other ones I’ve never seen.  I guess my local cable channels only paid for the rights to a few…?

February 19, 2013

Bare it for Books -- and PEN Canada

All day I’ve had too much caffeine – and excitement – and I’ve got the leg twitch going. 
So here is one of those things that I wanted to tell you about…the fun but scary thing I was invited to do:

Bare it for Books organizers Amanda Leduc and Allegra Young

Read about it here and here.
I am pretty nervous about this, I have to tell you.  Some parts of a Catholic upbringing die hard, and general unwarranted embarrassment about these human bodies of ours is one thing that has been hard for me to shake.  I have actually turned down free massages because it’s not really worth the stress of having to get naked in front of a stranger.  But that just seems like another reason to do it, really.  

The main reason, of course, is because PEN Canada is an amazing organization that defends freedom of expression around the world.    

February 18, 2013

Happy Lunar New Year (a little late)!

Saturday we had our annual Chinese New Year’s celebration.  J. made 8 separate completely amazing dishes (Dumplings! Hot and sour soup!  Lucky fish! Ribs!) and we had beer and champagne.   Then we watched half of Pitch Perfect and headed to karaoke. 

It’s the Year of the Snake! 

lovely Year of the Snake illustration from Bevolee

Friday afternoon was full of giddy good news (more on this later), an interview in the Mile End, and the exciting arrival of the annual PLR cheque.  After that, the weekend, as always, went by too fast.  I didn’t get to my laundry, but I did clean out three purses: over the course of a few weeks of use, the inside of any one of my bags resembles nothing so much as a wastebasket full of used tissues, crumpled receipts, and nearly empty packages of gum.  But in the process, I reclaimed four good pens, two bottles of Tylenol and a bottle of Advil.  Small victories.  I also knit some rows on my hat during Downton last night and got halfway caught up on email.  But according to the variety of cherry-picked internet horoscopes I’ve consulted, slow and steady is the way to go in the Year of the Snake. 

February 16, 2013

What do people think about while they're running?

I went to the gym again today, for the third time this week.  I haven’t really engaged in any kind of exercise since before my wedding…which was more than seven months ago now.  I am not much of an exercise person, really.  I love dancing, and walking to get somewhere, but the hampster-wheel stuff I can usually take or leave.  (I think, in fact, I've documented somewhere on this blog the one and only time I've had a true endorphin rush from running.  Once!  Clearly I'm not doing it right.)  I think regular walking is much better for you than sporadic, intense running anyway.  But for now I have to take what I can get.

I don’t scrutinize anyone too closely at the gym…mostly because I’m too busy trying to stay alive while running or stair climbing, but also because I’m hoping nobody is noticing me either.  Every once in a while, though, you see somebody who is working out really intensely… the guy or girl who has been on the elliptical machine for over forty-five minutes and who is going faster than anybody else in the whole row of exercise machines, including the people on treadmills.  There was a girl there like that today, with skinny arms and legs that looked like nothing but bone and muscle.  Of course, there are all sorts of body types, and I would never assume somebody has an eating disorder....because how else do skinny, super-fit people get to be that way besides vigorous exercise?   Every so often you see somebody, though, and you wonder.  Or I wonder…probably a side-effect of having worked on this book for years.  

Yesterday, I started comparing everyone’s demeanour as my mind wandered.  Mine: dreamy, resigned.  The girl next to me: annoyed.  The guys in the free weights area: a mix of swaggering, hopeful, joking, determined.

What do you think about when you're at the gym?  

I usually like to imagine I'm in some kind of movie montage where the heroine is suddenly getting fit and turning her life around.  It's a good time to cycle through goals and do some visualizing.  I did this a lot when I was trying to finish putting together the manuscript of Mother Superior before I started querying publishers.  I thought about what was still left to write.  I pictured the pages piling up.  I pictured somebody saying yes.  I pictured holding it as a book.  I imagined it getting reviewed in the Globe and Mail.  

Maybe everyone else is planning their novel, too?  Or their screenplay, their dissertation?  An impending breakup?  I wonder.  

February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I'm a romantic (at least I think I am...can you be a romantic and a cynic at the same time?? ), so I love that's there a day set aside just to celebrate what makes the world go 'round.  Then again, maybe it's easier for women to feel good about this holiday, without most of the social and consumer pressure of having to go out and spend money on chocolates and flowers. 

I was reminded of the impending holiday by someone at work yesterday afternoon, so after choir, I got busy and rid our kitchen of six browning bananas.  I only like bananas when they are just a little shy of ripe, so their presence, especially in such quantities, was perturbing to my piece of mind.  One never knows when one might be tempted through guilt (I hate wasting food) or hunger to start eating a sickly sweet overripe banana...and then writhe with disgust through the whole duration. I'm not usually keen to start baking late at night after a long day at work (and play), but I could hardly wait to mash those bananas and deliver them unto a better fate: chocolate-banana cake.  (There was also no small amount of love mixed into this furious-banana-converting-mania.)

Former bananas, exalted through sugar, butter, 
and chocolate and butterscotch chips

When icing becomes glaze...
a cake for my love

Cupcakes for the kid who loves little treats

Some of my friends are doing a double feature of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset tonight, which I think is just about the most amazing Valentine's Day plan ever (okay, a romantic dinner is maybe tied).  But regardless of how you're spending it, I hope everyone's day is full of love, friendship, hugs, and thoughtful gestures! 

February 13, 2013

flowers or Valium?

The title of this post is something funny K said to V in her piano lesson last week, when asking her if a chord was major or minor.  K is a brilliant pianist, choir director extraordinaire, and gifted piano teacher.  It is amazing to see him inspire and coax out the gifts of two people who, before the fall, could not even really read music.  Sometimes on Tuesdays, I end up having a mini-nap during V’s lesson (Tuesday evenings, like Friday evenings, are sometimes characterized by the compounded exhaustion of too many late night-early mornings in a row), but it’s so much more fun to be energized and puttering about the apartment and listening to everyone’s progress in the background.  Last night I made supper to this pleasant musical backdrop (including a salad that was a hit…hurray), and we ate together after everyone was finished. 

Randomly, around our kitchen:

 The inspirational scrap of paper was torn from an eclectic 
loot bag that also featured a life-sized neon gummi mouse.

The jury for the 2013 Giller Prize was announced this morning: Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem. I think it’s a wonderful combination, though I truly can’t imagine the kind of list they’ll come up with as a team.  Something inspired and eclectic, no doubt!  Somehow I still haven’t read any of Jonathan Lethem’s novels, but I really enjoyed his book of essays The Disappointment Artist.  

February 11, 2013

Knitaversary in North Hatley

What a lovely weekend.  My husband's parents were kind enough to let fourteen knitters (almost the whole group!) come and stay while they were away visiting friends of their own. We knit, walked, talked, and ate.  And ate.  There were three cakes, two kinds of muffins, beef stew, tortilla soup, croissants, cookies, chocolate chip pancakes, and tons of fruit, bread, cheese, and wine.  (As well as mulled wine and an inspired gin cocktail, thanks to P!)

There was also bacon.

Bacon on the grill!

My husband was amazed at how seemingly effortlessly and harmoniously all the food prep and cleanup seemed to go.  With fourteen kind and capable women on hand, I wasn't surprised, but it was wonderful nonetheless.  And A knew just how to perfectly clean a grill, even without a scraper.  (The secret ingredient is vinegar.)

Knitting in front of the fire.  

It was luxurious to knit in a room that held all of us comfortably (but still cozily)! Often we have to coordinate to bring chairs over to each other's apartments on knit night.  The resident speed-knitters K and J finished projects.  (Actually, I think a couple of other people may have as well.)  My hat grew an inch, but that’s about all I can say for it. Though  I've now added at least three more things I want to make to my what-to-knit-next-list.  There were also Tarot card readings and a fun game of Celebrity.

Snow-trudging in the round.

Sometimes it’s hard, with that many people around, to feel quite like myself.  But knitting is good for introverts.  I was also happy my knitting friends got a chance to know D a little better, and vice versa.  There was some teasing on the matter, but he did not in fact take up knitting before the weekend was over. 

Some of the photos below were taken by E and DD: 

Heading out on our cold walk before the sun went down. 
 (That's me in the red mitts.)

A photo from further out on the lake, where I didn't venture.

Paths and circles on the lake, heading out from the dock.

A. working on her circles.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day.

Another season of the linden tree where D. and I were married.

I did bring three books with me (plus the one I'm reading on my phone), and I'm afraid I didn't open even one of them.  Nor my computer.  But for once I think that's just fine.

February 8, 2013

saying yes

It has been a few days of interesting invitations.  A couple of invitations to do readings...and a few to do even more interesting things, each one a little (or, okay, a lot) outside of my comfort zone. My inbox is a place of wonder these days.  Wonder (Can I do this?  Are you really asking me?) and excitement (I'm so excited to do this.  Excited and terrified.) Maybe it helps that most of them are a little ways off, but in each case, I said...yes.  The readings and the non-readings both.  (I'm excited to say what the non-readings are, but...soon!)    

Hopefully I'm not dooming myself to hours of anxiety as they approach.  With every reading, it does become a little easier.  But not easy.

This weekend, I'm planning not to think about any of these looming thrills and responsibilities.   To celebrate two years of our knitting group, we're going on a knitting retreat.

Lovely (blurry) ladies at a knit night at T's awhile back.

The knit goes on.

I'm looking forward to good food, good friends, a walk in the woods, and maybe even finishing my hat!  Wishing all of you a lovely and peaceful weekend, too.

February 7, 2013

all things are possible

This photo by Laurent Chehere is just how I feel, somehow.  His wonderful "Flying Houses" of Paris were featured on Slate this week
Today is my birthday, and it has been a lovely day from start to finish.  I've had pecan pie, chocolate mousse, and cheesecake (not all at the same time...thank goodness).  I've had lovely messages from friends far and near, and a few wonderful gifts.  Now that everyone is asleep I'm looking up "If February 7 is your birthday" horoscopes."  April is apparently going to be an excellent time to put new enterprises into motion.  Ohh, and here's a better one: All things are possible, at least for you.  Now that's what makes the Globe and Mail a superior paper.

There hasn't been much time for writing today, although earlier today I was reading this very long but enjoyable book club discussion with George Saunders on The Rumpus.  I don't have a copy of Tenth of December, but I'm sure it'll come into my hands eventually.  Here's a shorter Q&A with him in Portland Monthly Mag, posted yesterday, that I stumbled onto this evening.  

February 6, 2013

How Should a Fan Be? On attending a Sheila Heti reading at McGill University.

This is almost old news now, but two Fridays ago I went to see Sheila Heti give a reading at McGill.  I was a little apprehensive because I’d already been to hear her read from How Should a Person Be? many months ago at Concordia, and quite often writers end up reading the same selection.  The section I’d already heard her read, from the very beginning, was hilarious and amazing and made me go straight out and pick up the book, but I remembered it well enough that I could still hear the passage in her voice in my head when I read it.

Anyhow, I needn’t have worried, and I was glad I attended.  She read from a few of her books, including The Middle Stories and The Chairs are Where the People Go, neither of which I'd read before, in spite of the fact that I have a few friends who have been obsessed with The Middle Stories for years (and the fact that we have not one, but two copies at home). 

The ever-growing to-read pile.

I wish there had been a way to take a surreptitious picture of the crowd.  Stylewise, it’s a relief to spend time in the Faculty of Arts (compared to science and medicine, where fashion is pretty much absent)  Everyone was young and interesting-looking.  Actually, ninety percent of the attendees looked like they’d walked straight out of a Girls episode.  I was worried enough that I had to ask the young woman next to me if it really was the Sheila Heti reading, or if I’d accidentally walked into an undergraduate class.  (I hadn't.)  Then, as I waited for the reading to begin, I overheard the girl behind me explain to her friends in a somewhat bored fashion about how something she did for the PR company she works for had turned into a freelance job writing for HuffPoCanada… which is a drag because her agent is totally waiting for her to finish her novel!  I listened while her just-barely-containing-their-seething-jealousy-and-awe friends duly expressed sympathy.  Meanwhile, I texted my own friends in an amazed and nervous fashion about the terrifying ambition and productivity of the next generation.

Sheila Heti was funny and smart and winning.  Apparently, there had been a request for her to read "the dirty parts" from How Should a Person Be? so she read the "Interlude for Fucking," which is extraordinary in the real sense of the word.

Another reason I was glad I went was because she mentioned this Paris Review interview with Jean Cocteau that she said had once made a big impression on her. 

Tiens, mon ami, it takes great courage to be original! The first time a thing appears it disconcerts everyone, the artist too. But you have to leave it—not retouch it. Of course you must then canonize the “bad.” For the good is the familiar. The new arrives only by mischance. As Picasso says, it is a fault. And by sanctifying our faults we create.
She cited it in response to a question from the audience (“Are you preoccupied with the ugly in your work?), and the way she described the impression it had made on her was that there may be things in your work that other people criticize or find ugly – and those are the things that make the work unique and which ought to be cultivated the most.  (Cf. the first Impressionists who were despised as making ugly works that we now consider beautiful.) 

I like this notion, though I don’t think that this principle would work ALL the time – I think it would depend a good deal on who’s giving the criticism – but I think it is very interesting nonetheless. 

As someone who also took a long time to write a novel, I was also relieved to hear that she had a lot of unused material leftover in the end. The other thing she said that I thought was interesting was that she wanted HSAPB to be more like a person and less like a book, and I think that she did a good job of achieving that.  (Well, except for the part where it is actually a book, but it is unlike quite a lot of other books.)

Still a book, but a good one!

I stayed afterwards to ask her to sign my copy (nobody else did this...maybe they all have the e-book?), in spite of the fact that I can have superfan qualities that definitely make me sheepish and awkward. (Nevermind that I’ve met her before, or that we share a publisher....there was no mitigation there.) But I love getting my books signed, which was enough to make me determined that we would both just have to endure my awkwardness and Sheila signed it in a really cute way:

Irresistible signing gimmick!  Love it.

There are lots of good profiles on Sheila and reviews of this book, but here is a recent worthwhile U.K. article which convincingly compares her to Philip Roth.

February 5, 2013

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

This week, February 3-9, is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.  

Although I’m the last person who is really capable of reducing my new book to a single issue, Bone and Bread is, among other things, very much a novel about the impact of an eating disorder not just on an individual, but on a whole family.  Over the past five years, I’ve done a lot of research (as well as a lot of imagining) about what it would feel like to be struggling with this issue or watching a loved one wrestle with one of these illnesses.  I think that the message of NEDIC’s (the National Eating Disorder Information Centre’s) new poster is a good one:  Talking Saves Lives.  

 A great message: Talking Saves Lives.

For Beena and Sadhana (the sister characters in Bone and Bread), the eating disorder slips into their lives into the space left by another loss, and it has an ominous presence throughout the novel.  When it is not being talked about is exactly when it is the most dangerous.  Sadhana and Beena are incredibly close in some ways, but communication, especially about their problems, is not their strong suit.  

Yesterday, I spoke to someone who is reading an Advanced Reading Copy of Bone and Bread, who told me that some of the events in the novel rang true for her as her sister struggled with an eating disorder for 15 years.  (Happily, her sister is now recovered, and aided greatly by a supportive partner.)  I'm really interested in hearing from people as to how the novel may or may not feel true to their real life experiences with their own or a family member's eating disorder.  I tried very hard to get it right, and while there likely isn't a single version of right, I'm still very curious (and a little anxious) to know what readers will think of this aspect of the novel.

This week is a good time to remember that it may be unwise to start overpraising girls who suddenly start losing a lot of weight.  If someone is becoming overly preoccupied with weight and food, focusing on their body and how they look can exacerbate an existing problem that may be taking hold.  It might be time for a conversation about the other things they might be thinking or feeling.

Click here for more of NEDIC's resources on eating disorders.

And here is NEDIC’s resource page for friends and family.

February 4, 2013

Argo and Auster

Another weekend come and gone.  They are always too short.  It seems like an extra day is called for – just to squeeze in all the fun AND the needed sleep catch-up AND the little errands and cleanup that are hard to take care of during the week.

Friday night was dumplings and a movie.  We caught the late show of Argo, which I really enjoyed.  I can’t think of a movie from last year that I liked quite as much.  And I can’t believe it has taken me this long to see it.

Saturday morning was choir rehearsal and reading.   I bought this beautiful edition of the New York Trilogy a while back and I’ve finally started it now. 

I’m only a little ways in but so far I love it and it’s exactly what I want to be reading right now.  Later on Saturday, we went out for a birthday celebration where the kitchen table was loaded with liquor, the apartment floor was covered in glitter, and there was a perpetual screening of Groundhog Day in one of the bedrooms.  Very fun!  

We also had slices of this amazing rainbow jello cake.  The strangest thing…it looks just like cake, tastes just like jello. 

Sunday I met up with some writer friends to go over some stories we’d shared and enjoy A’s piping hot sticky buns with pecans.  My first trip to Point St. Charles, aka the Point.  For once, I’m going to try and revise my story while I still have all the feedback fresh in my mind.